Books for Dudes: The Good Guys, the Bad Guys, and the Ugly Guys in Six Suspenseful New Novels

So I accidentally destroyed my hat the other day. Remember when I lost the hat? Well this time I flat-out annihilated it. I felt bad, so after my plucky farm friends tried to cheer me up, I wrote a roman √† clef about the whole affair using the pseudonym David Melling (how I’ve always loved that name!)*. And, hey‚ my book got a great review in LJ sister publication School Library Journal!

Which brings me to my NEW CONTEST: the first reader who emails me the name of that SLJ reviewer and the library where he/she works will win an American dollar ($1 U.S.) and get a mention in the next Books for Dudes column. You want it want it want it!

Less important: there has also been mucho good new reading around BFD HQ lately, so much so that it’s hard to tear myself away from it to play Fruit Ninja. Or mountain bike. Or shower.

To those who resist new books: I urge you, try these. Sure, you could stick with the completely enjoyable work of an established writer‚ say, Howard Swindle (Doin’ Dirty, Jitter Joint, etc), whose protagonist, Dallas cop and recovering alcoholic Jeb Quinlin, goes rogue, taking down international drug traffickers and criminal kingpins. Does the suspenseful writing blur the line between bad guys and good guys? Yes. In the audio version, does Richard Ferrone give his trademark gritty, cigarette-stained performance? Yes. (Same as he does in his readings of Lawrence Block’s books, or any of his audiobook performances you’re lucky enough to hear‚Ä°). But mightn’t you also like a book about the scuzzy urban landscape in near-future Ireland? Or a distressingly believable tale about a vinegary marriage? Or maybe an engaging retelling of the life of Sir William Wallace‚ not only hanged but also drawn and quartered?

Sure you would!
Lies, mostly. It’s a great book, I didn’t write it; there really is a luckily named David Melling.
And in the film Burn After Reading as guy stretching in gym who feels something pop in his ass.

Barry, Kevin. City of Bohane. Graywolf, dist. by Farrar. Mar. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9781555976088. $25. F
This wild-ass ripsnorter, set in Ireland about 40 years from now, is a bravura, Nabokovian mind-blower in which the story competes with the muscular, musical writing. It’s elegiac, lyrical, rollicking fun that mixes Brian Friel with A Clockwork Orange. Because of the characters’ vibrant slang and dense dialect, I could only follow about two-thirds of the time*, and while that’s enough for your usual Nevada Barr/Anna Pigeon title, here readers need to focus to figure out that it’s about two rival gangs heading for a showdown. Gant Broderick, smart as a hatful of snakes, leads one side; Logan Hartnett leads the other group‚ the Fancy Boys, dudes who talked lazily of bloodshed, and tush, and new lines in kecks. They combed each other’s hair and tried out new partings. Both tribes sound dirty, brutal, simple, and fun. Skirmishes. Blood spilling. Hormones raging is life for these dudes‚ not worrying about how Ben Bernanke is going to affect their indexed mutual funds. Lit crit geeks might say that first-time novelist Barry is trying too hard to be stirring, but they can’t write like he can.
So…why should dudes read it?
Try it if you like new, if you’re progressive, if you are tired of the same old crap.
*Like when some fella says, Our only problem is we got a loolah up on the Rises and he has a horn on him for a massive fucking ruck, I’m a little thrown.

Bazell, Josh. Wild Thing. Reagan Arthur Bks: Little, Brown. 2012. 240p. ISBN 9780316032193. $25.99. F
Instead of telling you that the writing is fluid or lyrical, or sharing crap like, This follows doctor and novelist Bazell’s internationally best-selling Beat the Reaper, let me just give you a line off the first page: It caused her skin to tighten all the way to her nipples, and her pussy to unclench like a fist. Neither lyrical nor fluid, but I bet it got your attention. Our hero, the mysterious Dr. Lionel Azimuth, is hired to accompany a super-hot catastrophic paleontologist to remote Ford, MN, to find out whether a lake monster there is real. Unfortunately, the townsfolk are hostile (they export crystal meth) and everyone, from the backcountry tour guide to the Ford country doctor, seems to be hiding something. Bazell is a special, fun writer, and his stories provide a skin-crawling, visceral frisson. The guy always has a surprise up his sleeve, a punch for your bookish gut. Even in a monster novel, his characters hold on to a sense of honor despite their rampant venality. And every so often, Bazell reveals this extremely pissed-off, rageful, leftish streak that is just so unpeacefully funny. Consider his take on waterskiing: he describes it as wasting a stretch of pristine, previously drinkable water, all for a dumb rush lasting three minutes at a time.
So…why should dudes read it?
The better question is: Why wouldn’t dudes read it?

O’Nan, Stewart. The Odds: A Love Story. Viking. 2012. c.179p. ISBN 9780670023165. $25.95. F
This turns out not to be Viking’s hotly anticipated sequel to The Odd Couple, featuring superdudes Oscar Madison and Felix Unger*. Nope, this quiet little book would be nice, even tranquil, except for the riptide of discomfort, surliness, bloat, and subdural unpleasantness perhaps reminiscent of a certain time of the month for female readers. The scant plot follows a sad-sack husband and a sourpuss wife on the brink of (choose one): a) divorce; b) bankruptcy; c) one last spending binge in Niagara Falls; d) all of the above. It’s good, but sad. Dudes will recognize themselves in Art’s small gestures: He met her when she stood, and kissed her, holding her shoulders, rubbed the tops of her arms as if she were cold. But Marion is aloof and needs to quit having a cow while listening to Art sing in the shower: As he did the solos, ridiculously impersonating the various instruments, she lay there listening, clicker in her lap, not understanding how he could be that oblivious, and that happy, both of which, she thought, were at least partly her fault. She must read Proust.
So‚Ķwhy should dudes read it? O’Nan (Emily, Alone; Last Night at the Lobster) shows remarkable versatility with these two characters, but if writerly writing isn’t enough to keep you turning pages, the odds (heh) are you’ll put it down. It’s a lollipop of a book, just sour-apple flavored.
*If only! In a new gay version starring Jeremy Piven and Ray Romano.

Pelicanos, George. What It Was. Reagan Arthur Bks: Little, Brown. 2012. 272p. ISBN 9780316209533. $35; pap. ISBN 9780316209540. $9.99.
Derek Strange, a private dick in 1972 Washington, D.C, is chasing bad guy Red Fury, who’s making the move from mere lowlife to local drug-dealing kingpin. Does that sound good to you? Then trust me, go forth and read it. Thing is, I get fined by the book reviewers union if I squander the 200-word allotment, so‚ĶPelicanos makes old-school fun with a propulsive plot featuring multiple teams‚ the cops, the mafia, even some hookers‚ all, for various reasons, chasing Fury. With no master plan, Red is burning his bridges faster than Patton’s Third Army ripping through Avranches. Loving little details of the ’70s are expertly interwoven: Strange gets $8 an hour, wears slacks, and says dig it. Still, if the action is hot and the details are chunky, the characters are shallow. These are doers, not thinkers, primal and unsophisticated. You’re not surprised that a cop and his paramour put a June Christy record on the console stereo and fixed a couple of cocktails. They had some laughs and fucked like animals in her bed. It’s easy to see how Pelicanos’s work translates to the small screen (The Wire, Treme).
So‚Ķwhy should dudes read it? It’s easy to read with lots of action and violence. What’s not to like?

Roslund, Anders & Börge Helström. Cell 8. Silver Oak. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9781402787157. $24.95. F
This confusing, murky, and totally compelling stunner from the authors of 3 Seconds centers on a hopelessly romantic Swedish cop with a catastrophically disabled wife. No wait, it chronicles an American murderer on death row in Ohio. Hang on‚ it’s about a reanimated corpse that rises to kill again! Actually, it’s all this and more. While most thrillers are constructed so that two disparate stories collide, here the multiple threads are so distinct that for the first 90 pages they can only be considered parallel stories. By page 91, however, they are inextricably bound. The authors keep readers wondering who the protagonist actually is, or if perhaps the villain is the same guy. Is it the vigilante lounge singer who goes batshit within 48 hours of his arrest? The hippopotamus rider from 1971? Or a cop, for instance Swedish Detective Superintendant Ewert Grens, the unlikeliest singing detective since Cop Rock? The continual roll and thrum of the plot teases readers onward; before you know it, five minutes of bedtime reading have turned into an insomniac episode straight out of The Twilight Zone. Well written, even strangely believable, the experience is slightly disorienting, akin to watching your favorite TV show but with different actors portraying the usual characters.
So‚Ķwhy should dudes read it? It’s like a torte; the layers are all good but so different. Great ride.

Whyte, Jack. The Forest Laird: A Tale of William Wallace. Forge: Tor. 2012. c.483p. ISBN 9780765331564. $25.99. F
Whyte traces the life, development, and awesomeness of William Wallace who, after he became Mel Gibson and insulted Jewish people everywhere, was one of the main dudes leading 13th-century Scotland’s independence movement*. Through a cleverly invented narrator, Wallace’s cousin Jamie, Whyte describes daily routines and historical events and lays down the detail needed to convey a story of this historical complexity. As a monk, Jamie’s dual concerns are learning (he’s the abbey’s librarian) and serving as liaison between church and nobility; these jobs give him insight into the political attitudes of everyone from the royalty to the peasants. Jamie also chronicles Will’s growth into a fleshed-out hero/outlaw/rebel/patriot. The details that usually bog historical fiction down to unreadable are here, but damn if Whyte doesn’t manage to keep things engaging and consistently paced. One learns of archering as well as monking (Wallace begins as a bowman): Iberian yew was unobtainable now in its native form, since most of Iberia had fallen to the Moors in the eighth century, but prudent merchants had salvaged a few thousand seedlings and saplings from the largely unoccupied but still contested areas of Galicia and Asturias during the tenth century, and plantations had been established in Italia and had flourished there, precious and close guarded. Wait, did Proust write this?
So‚Ķwhy should dudes read it?It’s thick. There’s brotherhood, patriotism, and political intrigue. And archery. Plus there’s just enough Scottish dialect to leave a hint of haggis.
Never mind that a scant 400 freaking years later England and Scotland joined up again anyway, thus wasting the lives of thousands of soldiers and all those innocent contractors hired to fix the castles and schlep the catapults and grog for the armies.

MAILBAG: Whatz Can My Dog To Eatz?

Two letters stand out as representative of the many hundreds that BFD HQ received in response to last month’s topic of dog care. The first type ran to the effect of, Doug, you suck. Signed, A. Bass Ethound from Topeka. The second kind was more along the lines of, Doug, I care for my dog and wanted to know what to feed her. She likes hamburgers, not fries, and tuna sushi but not egg drop soup. Signed, Confused Near Boston.

To the first, I merely wrinkle my nose. To all the writers like Confused, I reply, If you keep doing what you’re doing, your dog won’t like it. Do your dog a favor and go all paleo, e.g., feed that meat-eater some meat. And, personally, I find it pretty funny to give dogs a freshly caught fish because they usually love it (not as much as cats do, though. A cat with a fish, that’s entertainment). Or you could try BRBC: TODBC. (See below. Right below. Right there.)

Bubba Rose Biscuit Company. The Organic Dog Biscuit Cookbook. Cider Mill. 2008. 224p. ISBN 9781933662954. $14.95. PETS
Do you have no life? Is your only loved one an animal? Then rejoice‚ this is the book for you! (If not, then go ahead and do something valuable with your time that actually helps society. Volunteer somewhere, be a Big Sister, train your animal to be a therapy dog.) Anyway, this stuff is definitely good for your dog, but remember that there are people out there who don’t eat this well. I’d eat the Tuna Melt (p.82), it sounds great. Oat flour, brown rice flour, oat bran, cheddar cheese, and wham-o: lunch for you and your dog. I’ll skip the Liver and Oats Biscuit, but there’s Grilled Cheese with Bacon. The cutesy names, though, are too much. Snickerdoodle Poodle-poos? Sniffin’ Down the Bunny Trail? While the impetus for the book is noble, do yourself and your dog a favor: do some romping after you both volunteer at the local hospice. Btw, if you doubt the redemptive or therapeutic power of a nice dog, I dare you to flip through Angel on a Leash: Therapy Dogs and the Lives They Touch (BowTie Press, 2011). Love is just something that most dogs (and book reviewers) are made of.

Kalstone, Shirlee. How To Housebreak Your Dog in 7 Days. Rev. ed. Bantam. 2004. 96p. ISBN 9780553382891. $7.99. PETS
Though hardly revolutionary, this is Good Stuff. According to Kalstone, it comes down to a simple formula: feed them regular and nutritious meals, put them on a strict outdoor-walking or indoor-paper schedule, confine them at night and at specific times during the day until they can be trusted to have the run of the house, and give them plenty of praise. Now, re-read that sentence knowing that it is also the recipe for success in caring for your dude. We need regular, nutritious meals. We need plenty of praise‚ something that’s in short supply around the house, any dude will tell you. The rest is gravy and again fits both man and beast. Keep him well exercised and pay attention to him. Keep him clean so he doesn’t get used to the smell of sitting in his own poop. This time spent playing with and loving your puppy [dude] will be repaid by his faithfulness and loving companionship. If you extend the metaphor, Kirsten Cole-MacMurray and Stephanie Nishimoto’s all-too-freaky See Spot Run: 100 Ways To Work Out with Your Dog (Quayside, 2010) might work as well. Capice?

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Douglas Lord About Douglas Lord

Douglas Lord has been reviewing books and audio for Library Journal since the earth was a molten mass. He is an Ironman athlete blessed with a family that sometimes finds him funny and puts up with him constantly reading aloud from advanced review copies. Books for Dudes focuses on books for curious, fun, time-crunched men.